News Release: Arts and Humanities, University News

Sep. 19,  2008

Rescue Effort Saves Books

From Emory Report

A rescue effort is under way in the Conservation Lab at the Woodruff Library. Specialists on the Emory Libraries staff have been drying, pressing and cleaning hundreds of books that were damaged by water from a valve leak in the library's fire sprinkler system over the Labor Day weekend.

About 2,300 circulating books got wet, including 500 that were so badly soaked they were shipped to a freeze-dry facility in Chicago, says Ann Frellsen, collections conservator for the Emory Libraries. Freezing stops mold from developing and keeps ink from smearing.

The leak on Sunday, Aug. 31, sent water pouring down walls and onto shelves of books in three levels of the library. Water traveled through tiny cracks in the floor from the sixth floor down to the fifth and fourth floors. Staff from Emory Libraries' Preservation Office — the largest of its kind in the South — arrived Sunday evening to assess the damage, place plastic sheeting over shelves, and inventory and start drying books.

Fortunately, the library staff acted fast, so damage to the books has been minimized, says Justin Still, restoration account manager for Munters, the company that is freeze drying the books.

"We can't reverse wrinkling or staining, but we can prevent further damage," says Still. Any water in the books is vaporized during the freeze drying process, he says.

The rest of the volumes are being preserved in Emory's Conservation Lab using less high-tech methods. Library staff took their Lean Cuisines out of the freezer compartment of the staff room refrigerator to make room for some of the books. Other books are being dried using ordinary room fans and are being placed in book presses to retain their shape.

"We're taking out about six to eight books a day, and fanning out the pages to dry," says Kirsten Wehner, a conservation technician.

As of Sept. 17 all but 53 of the 1,800 books handled in-house have been dried in the conservation lab and returned to shelving for use.

Because of the location of the leak, the literature collections were the most affected, Wehner says. No rare books were damaged.

"Without a trained in-house team, a library would need to call in a disaster recovery/restoration firm to do all the necessary work, including drying the books," Frellsen says. "The books would have been unavailable for use for several weeks, and likely at a greater expense to the institution."

This type of valve failure is extremely rare, according to Charles Forrest, director of facilities management and planning for Emory Libraries. Modifications have been made to the valves on all three floors to ensure such a leak doesn't happen again, he said.

This isn't the first time members of Emory's book conservation staff have jumped into action following an emergency. Frellsen is one of 60 "rapid responders" on the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works — Collections Emergency Response Team.

As part of that conservation team, Frellsen traveled to three coastal Mississippi counties that were hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. They assessed the damage at public libraries, courthouses and other locations that had significant collections of books and documents — a total of 19 institutions in three days, Frellsen says.

More recently, Frellsen, Wehner and Julie Newton, another conservation technician, pitched in to salvage materials from the Atlanta Daily World after the roof of its offices on Auburn Avenue were damaged by the March 14 tornado that tore through downtown Atlanta.


News Release Tools